In the winter the sap from the trees travels from the branches to the roots. This retraction is for the plant's survival to get it through the harsh weather found in the winter and provide adequate nutrients through those months. This transfer of nutrients is what makes transplanting in the winter also the best time of year, especially late winter.
Dormancy is the perfect time to prune the tree back, guide the growth, protect the tree from too much weight and unhealthy branches, cut off dead or sick limbs and set the tree up for success. The tree will lose little of its hard earned nutrients this time of year and will have time to heal before the spring flurry of growth. This also tends to be easier to do as well since the fruit and the leaves are gone making the branches and sprouts visible and accessible.
What is the goal of pruning?
To increase yield, improve fruit size and maintain the health of the tree.
Can I prune my trees?
You can definitely prune your own trees but it is always a good idea to consult a professional arborist or a nursery worker who may be willing to share information with you. Pruning can be done incorrectly and can be done both too much and too little. There are online courses and books on the subject which give great information for you to attempt yourself and this would be recommended before you attempt this on our own.
Rules of Pruning
There are multiple acronyms floating around even in the professional world that are all made to help guide through a proper tree pruning. We will go over a couple different ones below.
The 3 C’s
Crossing: This is to prevent damage when the tree gets larger and heavier as well as promote optimal sunlight to all your producing branches.
Competing: Removing competing leaders will beat a strong and more productive tree and focus growth to a single area.
Crowding: Pruning these will balance weight for the tree, prevent future damage and allow those remaining branches room for growth in the future as it grows.
These rules could be followed as a general guideline for tending to the shape and growth patterns on your tree.
Another common acronym referred to is “the 4 D’s”
The 4 D's
Dead: Dead Branches should be removed immediately at least 3 buds back from where the dead portion starts.
Disruptive: This can be similar to the crossing or crowded branches or maybe ones that are competing or maybe they are low and at an unhealthy angle lending itself to breaking underweight. These should be removed to make sure your tree is healthy!
The ⅓ Rule
Even in dormancy, pruning is harsh on your tree, even though it is necessary. To make sure that you are not going to cause too much damage to your tree and that it is able to recover strongly you should follow the ⅓ rule. Never trim more than ⅓ of your trees off. Maybe some years you need to delay some desired pruning because you have already pruned a lot off. That is why you have to prune from the most important adjustments to the least in that order.
The ⅔ Ratio
Another good rule to follow is the ⅔ Ratio:
This refers to the ratio between your tree's trunk and branches. The “precious” or main branch that is the central leader of the tree, equivalent to the trunk, should always be ⅓ larger than the branches that are coming off of it. This is for the health and safety of the tree and also to remove the risk of competing branches that may be detrimental to the long term success of your tree and high quality production.
As you can see there is a lot to think about with the task of pruning and it can affect your trees in a life changing way (for better or for worse). So if the risk of damage is so high why Prune?
The benefits far outweigh the potential for stressing the tree. When there are too many shoots and buds on a tree, the tree will have to try to produce fruit on all of those buds, as the tree does not favor any one in particular or protect itself. The fruit produced will often be inadequate both in size and also in quality. This can be altered by pruning off some of the new growth to focus the nutrients in a few fruits that will be high quality.
The weight of all this fruit if not pruned is going to be a heavy demand for a tree and its new growth especially. This can result in breaking its branches and even affect the healthy balance of the tree.
The sunlight should be getting to all of the branches and crowding of branches can prohibit this especially in the summer months where the leaves and fruit add extra coverage. Pruning creates space allowing optimal sunlight to reach all of the tree effectively supporting growth and productivity.
Trees also tend to grow in all directions and can lead to, as described earlier, damaging or inconvenient growth. Removing these is healthier for the tree and also helpful for you to be able to access the tree easily in the future as the tree continues to grow and produce.
Here at the Snohomish and Monroe Co-op stores we have all your need for pruning your trees!
For our hand held pruning shears we have a great selection from ratcheting shears for heavy work to our precise trimmers by Fiskars. Get the option and angle of sheers you need!
With our larger option for more established trees we have our larger trimmers! Again with a large variety of shears we have lots of options for the needs you have. Variations of Types of blades like the anchor or the bypass or different ergonomic handles, come in and see which option is best for you!
Hand saws are for some of the more intense jobs you would encounter. We always suggest having a good hand saw in your arsenal due to its consistency and reliability. If your saw breaks down or runs out of fuel or battery, our hand saws will get the job down and store very well! Check out our Bow Saw and we have replacement blades available for them as well (21”).
For the Harvest, some of your big trees can be difficult to get all of the high hanging fruit from, even with a ladder! Here is our Fruit picker! This tool has a basket with a foam cushion to protect your fruit from bruising as you pick. The basket is big enough to pick multiple pieces of fruit before emptying. It has a telescoping handle to have great reach while storing well. This is a must have tool for your orchard!
Bird Netting is a great idea for protecting your trees, even when they are small. They keep the big heavy birds off of them, protect the new buds from damage and project your fruit prior to harvesting. We have multiple sizes and options to fit your needs!
We have tree stakes in both locations as well which are 2” diameter but 10 feet tall that will allow you to guide and support your trees while they grow and mature!
We also have wood stakes as well in two lengths: 18” & 36”.
Stop into our stores and check out our garden sections and talk with our staff about your needs and our options! We carry many other things that you may be needed:
- Topsoil and Peat and Soil Amendments
- Dormant Sprays
- Pest Control Baits and Traps
We look forward to helping you and your orchard this season!
We’ll see you at the Co-op!